Move over, touchpad screens: New research funded in part by the National Institutes of Health shows that it is possible to manipulate complex visual images on a computer screen using only the mind.
The study, published in Nature, found that when research subjects had their brains connected to a computer displaying two merged images, they could force the computer to display one of the images and discard the other. The signals transmitted from each subject's brain to the computer were derived from just a handful of brain cells.
"The subjects were able to use their thoughts to override the images they saw on the computer screen," said the study's lead author, Itzhak Fried, M.D., Ph.D., a professor of neurosurgery at the University of California, Los Angeles. The study was funded in part by the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS), and the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), both part of NIH.
The study reflects progress in the development of brain-computer interfaces (BCIs), devices that allow people to control computers or other devices with their thoughts. BCIs hold promise for helping paralyzed individuals to communicate or control prosthetic limbs. But in this study, BCI technology was used mostly as a tool to understand how the brain processes information, and especially to understand how thoughts and decisions are shaped by the collective activity of single brain cells.
"This is a novel and elegant use of a brain-computer interface to explore how the brain directs attention and makes choices," said Debra Babcock, M.D., Ph.D., a program director at NINDS.
The study involved 12 people with epilepsy who had fine wires implanted in their brains to record seizure activity. Recordings like these are routinely used to locate areas of the brain that are responsible for seizures. In this study, the wires were inserted in the medial temporal lobe, a brain region important for memory and the ability to recognize complex images, including faces.
While the recordings from their brains were transmitted to a computer, the research subjects viewed two pictures superimposed on a computer screen, each picture showing a familiar object, place, animal or person. They were told to select one image as a target and to focus their thoughts on it until that image was fully visible and the other image faded away. The monitor was updated every one-tenth of one second based on the input from the brain recordings.
As a group, the subjects attempted this game nearly 900 times in total, and were able to force the monitor to display the target image in 70 percent of these attempts. Subjects tended to learn the task very quickly, and often were successful on the first try.
The brain recordings and the input to the computer were based on the activity of just four cells in the temporal lobe. Prior research has shown that individual cells in this part of the brain respond preferentially – firing impulses at a higher rate – to specific images. For instance, one cell in the temporal lobe might respond to seeing a picture of Marilyn Monroe, while another might respond to Michael Jackson. Both were among the celebrity faces used in the study.
Dr. Fried's team first identified four brain cells with preferences for celebrities or familiar objects, animals or landmarks, and then targeted the recording electrodes to those cells. The team found that when subjects played the image-switching game, their success appeared to depend on their ability to power up cells that preferred the target image and suppress cells that preferred the non-target image.
"The remarkable aspects of this study are that we can concentrate our attention to make a choice by modulating so few brain cells and that we can learn to control those cells very quickly," said Dr. Babcock.
Prior studies on BCIs have shown that it is possible to perform other tasks, such as controlling a computer cursor, with just a few brain cells. However, the task here was more complex and might have been expected to involve legions of cells in diverse brain areas needed for vision, attention, memory and decision-making.
Reference: Cerf M et al. "On-line, voluntary control of human temporal lobe neurons," Nature, October 28, 2010.
NINDS (www.ninds.nih.gov) is the nation's leading funder of research on the brain and nervous system. The NINDS mission is to reduce the burden of neurological disease – a burden borne by every age group, by every segment of society, by people all over the world.
The mission of the NIMH (www.nimh.nih.gov) is to transform the understanding and treatment of mental illnesses through basic and clinical research, paving the way for prevention, recovery and cure.
NIH — The Nation's Medical Research Agency — includes 27 Institutes and Centers and is a component of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. It is the primary federal agency for conducting and supporting basic, clinical and translational medical research, and it investigates the causes, treatments, and cures for both common and rare diseases. For more information about NIH and its programs, visit www.nih.gov.
Daniel Stimson | EurekAlert!
Fingerprints of quantum entanglement
16.02.2018 | University of Vienna
Simple in the Cloud: The digitalization of brownfield systems made easy
07.02.2018 | Deutsches Forschungszentrum für Künstliche Intelligenz GmbH, DFKI
Breakthrough provides a new concept of the design of molecular motors, sensors and electricity generators at nanoscale
Researchers from the Institute of Organic Chemistry and Biochemistry of the CAS (IOCB Prague), Institute of Physics of the CAS (IP CAS) and Palacký University...
For photographers and scientists, lenses are lifesavers. They reflect and refract light, making possible the imaging systems that drive discovery through the microscope and preserve history through cameras.
But today's glass-based lenses are bulky and resist miniaturization. Next-generation technologies, such as ultrathin cameras or tiny microscopes, require...
Scientists from the University of Zurich have succeeded for the first time in tracking individual stem cells and their neuronal progeny over months within the intact adult brain. This study sheds light on how new neurons are produced throughout life.
The generation of new nerve cells was once thought to taper off at the end of embryonic development. However, recent research has shown that the adult brain...
Theoretical physicists propose to use negative interference to control heat flow in quantum devices. Study published in Physical Review Letters
Quantum computer parts are sensitive and need to be cooled to very low temperatures. Their tiny size makes them particularly susceptible to a temperature...
Let’s say the armrest is broken in your vintage car. As things stand, you would need a lot of luck and persistence to find the right spare part. But in the world of Industrie 4.0 and production with batch sizes of one, you can simply scan the armrest and print it out. This is made possible by the first ever 3D scanner capable of working autonomously and in real time. The autonomous scanning system will be on display at the Hannover Messe Preview on February 6 and at the Hannover Messe proper from April 23 to 27, 2018 (Hall 6, Booth A30).
Part of the charm of vintage cars is that they stopped making them long ago, so it is special when you do see one out on the roads. If something breaks or...
15.02.2018 | Event News
13.02.2018 | Event News
12.02.2018 | Event News
16.02.2018 | Information Technology
16.02.2018 | Health and Medicine
16.02.2018 | Physics and Astronomy